Thursday, September 17, 2009

Florida County Crime Labs Feeling the Heat

It has been a rough August for a few of Florida’s county-run crime labs. First, last week we found out that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab is having a bit of financial difficulty:

The crime lab has been in operation in Broward since 1969, but with the state of the economy, auditors and county commissioners are searching for funds to keep it going.

Evidently, they don’t have the money to pay for the lab’s $7 million budget, especially with the State of Florida only subsidizing 13% percent of that budget. One option was to charge local law enforcement agencies for use of the lab’s services. Another, is to turn the lab over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and let them run it. However, the local Sheriff wants none of that:

Lamberti said it’s essential that the crime lab stay in Broward, for the sake of solving crimes before it’s too late.

He points to the recent case of a Taco Bell manager found dead in an Oakland Park restaurant. About the only thing Lamvberti’s detectives had to go on were fingerprints on a cup left at the scene.

“The closest state lab to Broward County is Fort Meyers. The evidence would have had to been transported there, analyzed,” Lamberti said. “It would have been weeks before we got those finger prints back.”

The lab lifted the prints, and the BSO had a suspect nabbed in the same day, before he could run.

“Within 21 hours we had the evidence analyzed, mainly finger prints, and we had the suspect in custody, all within 21 hours,” Lamberti said.

A little criminal fear mongering solves every problem. But this raises the question of which would be better, a better funded State lab that has more moving parts and may be less efficient or a locally controlled but cash strapped lab able to more timely respond to criminal investigative needs. Well, with this news from last week as evidence, maybe law enforcement-run labs, whether local or state, are really the problem:

Fourteen months after the DNA match, the rape suspect, Edward Mozie, would be arrested in a separate case for murdering Christine Myers in Sunrise.

Records show the DNA match sent by CODIS — the national DNA database — to MDPD on July 18, 2004 would have linked Edward Mozie to a rape on January 18, 2004 in Northwest Miami-Dade. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirms it received a copy of the notification on that date.

However, in a memo obtained by the CBS4 I-Team, MDPD says it has no record of the match being received by the department’s Crime Lab at that time. That means the information never got passed along to MDPD detectives who were looking for the rapist in the Northwest Miami-Dade attack.

Mozie was arrested on September 20, 2005 by the Sunrise Police Department for the murder of 18-year-old Christine Myers — 14 months after the DNA match that should have led to his arrest on a rape charge.

So did FDLE get the match and not pass it on to Miami Dade PD or did MDPD get it but not pass it onto investigators? Evidently, it is no one’s fault, or at least all agencies are covering their behinds to avoid obvious responsibility for a woman’s death. The FBI says they sent the match. FDLE says they got a copy of the match on the same day (even though they had the rapists DNA in the databse since 1997 and could have provided the match), and MDPD says they never received it.

Whatever way you cut it, this illuminates the problems with law enforcement-run labs. They are inefficient. And they are subjectively biased instead of scientifically objective because they work for the agency whose job it is to put people in prison.

The easiest way to solve this issue would be to make these government run labs independent from law enforcement agencies. While there is absolutely no chance of that happening in Florida, it should be the goal.


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